Hello, TechRaptor readers. Pull up a seat and get comfy while we have a nice, friendly chat about brutally caving in skulls, turning aliens into gibbets of oddly-colored flesh scattered across the ground, and turning gigantic monsters into fiery effigies of agony and suffering—with dice, plastic models, and a decent sized tabletop.
While it’s a relatively new interest for me—I got started with Warhammer 40K in October of 2011—my first few steps into the wargaming community quickly turned into a headfirst dive. After painting up my Ultramarines and Orks from the old “Assault on Black Reach” set and playing a few small games with them, I began building a Dark Eldar army that is still in progress today—along with a few others. I’ve been most involved in Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy Battles to a lesser degree, though I’ve also started branching out into other games lately. I picked up the “Operation: Icestorm” starter set for Infinity a week ago, and I’m currently working on getting everything painted and based. I have a fairly firm rule about putting unpainted or partially complete minis one the tabletop: Avoid it as much as possible. Bare plastic/metal is heresy.
Why do I find this particular hobby so engrossing? As with most things in life, this is a simple question with more than one answer. Wargaming as a whole is much more than moving plastic models around a table and rolling dice.
- A highly immersive strategy experience
I’ve always been a huge fan of strategy video games, both the real-time and turn-based versions. Hands-down, my favorite video game franchise is the Total War series. The combination on turn-based empire building and real-time strategy scratches multiple itches. One of the downsides for me, however, is the immersion factor. It’s also one of the big draws wargaming holds for me. While it’s possible to put yourself into the shoes of your army’s commander in a strategy video games, it’s much easier to do so when said army is directly in front of you rather than being rendered on a monitor. Being able to not only see the big picture of the game, but from the view of every model in the game helps draw the player in and really lets you get into it, whether you’re a general of the Empire leading regiments of state troops against greenskin invaders or a dread Archon from the Dark City of Commoragh launching precision strikes from the webway against an Imperial Guard outpost.
- An outlet for creativity and artistry
Wargaming offers a huge amount of customizability for your army, whether it’s something as simple as changing the color scheme or as complex as casting your own models. Starting out with some simple, and not so simple at times, bits of shaped plastic or metal and ending up with a beautifully painted and based miniature is incredibly satisfying. The ability to tell a story even with something as simple as “what goes on the base” can provide a greater and more satisfying artistic outlet than clicking on a few colors on a screen.
This creative outlet isn’t just limited to painting and modeling. Every game you play slowly builds up a history and backstory for your army, which can also provide you more opportunities to flesh out your army and create a stronger connection. One of the most common examples of this is adding trophies from an army you’ve beaten, like a helmeted head, onto one of your own models as a way to both show off your accomplishments and try to goad your opponent, if they play that specific army, the next time you’re playing together.
- Better multiplayer
Those of you who grew up with LAN parties and split-screen multiplayer console games will understand this point. Gaming with other people who are physically there with you is infinitely more enjoyable than playing over the Internet, even with voice chat. Being able to see your opponents’ reactions to battlefield events, and joke about them, provides an additional level of enjoyment for everyone involved, and sometimes people who aren’t involved, as wargaming provides a better view for spectators who like watching people (mostly fail to) pull off Hail Mary feats as much as the people playing.
- There’s more than just playing and modeling
While Games Workshop has had a much bigger head start in the literature department, its competitors are quickly catching on and releasing their own novels, comic books, and other works of fiction to further flesh out the worlds created by their games. Black Library has a huge catalog of books based in the 40K and Fantasy universes, and Privateer Press’ Skull Island eXpeditions provides the same products for the Warmachine universe. Wild West Exodus has a series of comics that flesh out the backstory and world of its game, launched at the same time as the game itself.
Not only do the books provide additional information about the worlds created by the game, they can also provide inspiration and a way to bring these stories and forces to life on the tabletop. If you ask ten 40K players why they’ve chosen the armies they currently have, don’t be surprised if Black Library novels come up at least once. I’ve come very close to starting a Night Lords army for either 40K or 30K, Horus Heresy era Warhammer, due in no small part to the Night Lords trilogy written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. The ability to recreate legendary forces and titanic battles—literally, if you’ve got enough cash to afford multiple Titans from Forge World—is a huge draw for lore junkies like myself.
I want to clarify a point here quickly: I have nothing against video games. I may have taken a few potshots at online multiplayer in this article, but that was done as a way to explain some of the more important differences between it and wargaming, not out of some sense of innate superiority. Video gaming does have some significant advantages over tabletop wargaming.
It’s much easier to scale up the size of your games to monumental levels, provided the game engine and your hardware can handle it, than it is for traditional wargames, both in size and cost. With video games, creating huge battles doesn’t require a large amount of physical space or large amounts of time and money to purchase, assemble, and paint the same number of units that can be spawned with a few mouse clicks and keystrokes. Video games also have a much lower barrier to entry, again due to the lack of physical restrictions mentioned. While there is a good amount of overlap between the two, traditional wargames and video games ultimately fulfill different needs; one should not be considered superior to the other.
Hopefully I’ve been able to provide some insight into my odd little hobby for those of you who aren’t familiar with tabletop wargaming, and why people spend so much time painting silver pants blue and pushing little plastic army men across a tabletop scatted with model trees, plastic buildings, and the odd soda bottle standing in for a drop pod or an oil refinery or whatever else is required at the time.
Wargamers, what drew you into the hobby? What keeps you involved? Newbies or those curious, what do you want to know? What content would you like to see in the future? Let us know in the comments!